Choosing Connectors for Mil/Aero and Defense Applications

By Contributed Article | May 01, 2018

Many manufacturers offer solutions for challenging mil/aero environments with harsh conditions and strict requirements.

By Rob Toenies, Product Manager, Newark element14

Connectivity is the lifeblood of today’s technology-driven world. This multifaceted term has many dimensions, referencing technology extending from the internet and data networks to home appliances and devices of all sizes. In the military/aerospace and commercial aerospace sectors, connectors are invaluable to applications related to avionics, control systems, grounding systems, propulsion, weapons and munitions, and even in-flight entertainment. Regardless of the context, interconnect products enable these diverse systems to stay connected and running. While practically everything today uses circuitry or circuit boards, which in turn use connectors to link the various modules, connectors play a vital part in ensuring the reliability, ruggedness, and performance of a system.

Many of us work indoors in moderate and controlled conditions, so the devices and appliances around us lead comfortable and moderately unstressful lives. However, most of the electrical and electronic systems and machinery that make our lives run smoothly must operate in harsh conditions, exposed to the elements of nature. When we are considering air transportation, for example, there is no margin for error. These systems must function under conditions that include extremes of temperature, dust, water, and rapidly shifting air pressure. Because of these critical demands, architects and integrators of aerospace and defense systems have to weigh many requirements and considerations when they are selecting the right connectors for the job at hand.

Connectors should be a central focus and concern for engineers in today’s network-centric and data-intensive aerospace market. Without proper connectivity, individual systems and nodes on a network across broad geographic expanses cannot relay what is essential, be it power or data. The demanding environments of flight control and landing gear present challenges whereby reliability is essential. There is nowhere to go for a spare when you are at 30,000 feet.

Several companies offer components designed to perform in these environments. A few of the key considerations for architects of aerospace systems include:

Bandwidth: The changing RF world is now demanding higher bandwidths and faster speeds to meet the increasingly sophisticated needs of radar and communications. The drive toward smaller packages, higher electronic densities, and ease of use requires innovative, next-generation product families. Manufacturers need to work with engineers from the early stages of design to achieve a final product solution that delivers. TE’s SMP/SMPM RF connectors support applications up to 40GHz and are available in board- and cable-mount versions, including VITA 67.

Size, weight, and power (SWaP): Components and solutions designed for avionics applications must be packaged in smaller, lighter configurations to control and manage communications, on-board computers for navigation, power management, and multiple subsystems throughout the platform. These components must provide reduced size and weight solutions while meeting ever increasing demands for higher bandwidth and high-speed connectivity, and include: high-speed board level and I/O connectors and backshells, high-speed cable and cable assemblies, switching/solid-state and board-level relays, sensors, lightweight composite enclosures, antennas, and repair products.

Cost: Connectors can add considerable cost to a system, as the price of metal remains mostly stable, making connectors a comparatively more expensive element of the build than silicon-based components, which continue to fall in price. As a result, the cost of a required hermetically sealed connector with gold-plated pins can easily exceed that of all other electronic components in the system. As such, design engineers sometimes consider the use of commercial-grade connectors to address requirements, such as Amphenol’s 97 Series industrial-grade connectors. Commercial-grade connectors often meet the needs of integrators and system designers at a much lower price point, while still providing a robust and completely reliable solution.

Connectors, as the building blocks of connected devices, play a critically important role providing reliable and safe functioning. For design engineers looking for connectors built to stand up to the stresses of flight, understanding the requirements as well as the features offered to choose the right connector with care and consideration can make all the difference in the field or at 30,000 feet.

Newark element14, a business of the global Premier Farnell Group, is a high-service distributor of technology products, services, and solutions for electronic system design, maintenance, and repair.

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